Appeal court gives Karadzic life sentence, confirms genocide conviction

Appeal court gives Karadzic life sentence, confirms genocide conviction
By Denitsa Koseva in Sofia March 20, 2019

The appeal court in The Hague gave former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic a lifetime prison sentence on March 20, ruling that the gravity of his crimes is too much for the previous sentence of 40 years in prison.

In 2016, Karadzic was sentenced to 40 years by the UN war crimes tribunal, but appealed the verdict, claiming it was based on rumours.

The March 20 sentence is final and cannot be appealed.

The judges at the UN Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT) also upheld Karadzic's 2016 convictions for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.

Back in 2016, Karadzic, 73, was found guilty of genocide, as well as five counts of crimes against humanity and four counts of violations of the laws or customs of war. Several of the charges were related to the siege of Sarajevo and the Srebrenica massacre, Europe's worst atrocity since World War Two.

Bosniaks watching the appeal live in Bosnia hailed the life jail sentence, but said this is only a partial justice as he was not found guilty of genocide in seven other municipalities. Despite that, it was seen as a historical act that should restore justice.

However, analysts fear that the verdict will further increase the already deep division between Bosniaks and Serbs living in the country.

Bosnia comprises two autonomous entities – the Muslim-Croat Federation and Republika Srpska. For most Serbs Karadzic is still a hero who defended them from Bosniaks during the war.

Karadzic pleaded not guilty to all the charges and represented himself with the help of a team of legal advisers.

The Srebrenica killings were conducted under the command of Karadzic's military chief, General Ratko Mladic, whose trial, also on charges of genocide, is still in progress at The Hague. Over 7,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were killed and 25,000 women and children were deported from the UN-designated ‘safe area’ of Srebrenica.

The former psychiatrist is widely seen as the mastermind behind the Bosnian Serb campaign of ethnic cleansing that forced two million people from their homes and led to thousands being held in detention camps, where many were tortured or raped.

The Bosnian war broke out after Bosniaks and Croats voted for independence from the former Yugoslav federation in a 1992 referendum boycotted by Serbs, which wanted to stay part of former Yugoslavia.

Between 1992 and 1996, Karadzic was the first president of the self-declared Republika Srpska and supreme commander of its armed forces during the 1992-1995 Bosnian war, in which 100,000 people were killed. Under Karadzic's leadership, Serbs occupied 70% of the country, killing and persecuting Muslims and Croats.

In 1996, Karadzic was ousted from his position and lived for 11 years as a fugitive. He was arrested in Belgrade, where he had lived openly, disguised as a white-bearded New Age healer, in July 2008 and extradited to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).